A few hours by bus or less than an hour by plane from Seoul, Jeonju is the latest South Korean provincial city to stage a major film festival. In the western province of Chollabuk-do, Jeonju is the sixth largest city in the country with a population of around half a million. Temples such as Kumsansa (built around 599AD), Naesosa and Hwaomsa are but three of many dotting this very scenic area of splendid mountain forests and an attractive coastline to the west. Hot mineral springs add to the allure of the region. While Jeonju has a rich cultural past, it is looking to develop its future in the digital age of the next century and beyond.

The Pusan International Film Festival, further to the southeast, has established itself after four editions as one of Asia’s pre-eminent cinema events. Bearing this in mind, the organisers of the 1st Jeonju International Film Festival, held between April 28 and May 5 2000, focused on independent and alternative cinema principally with an international film selection, retrospectives and a competition included in the proceedings. Distinguished filmmakers and critics were jury members including Peggy Chiao (Taiwan), Hong Sang-soo (South Korean director whose wonderful third feature VIRGIN STRIPPED BARE BY HER BACHELORS [2000] opened this festival), Tian Zhuangzhaung (mainland Chinese director best known internationally for THE BLUE KITE [1993]), Jang Sun-woo (South Korean director of many ground-breaking films in the last decade and most recently LIES [1999]), Zhang Yuan (mainland Chinese maker of EAST PALACE, WEST PALACE [1996] and whose SEVENTEEN [1999] and CRAZY ENGLISH [1999] will be seen very soon in Australia), Tony Rayns (respected western writer on Asian and other cinemas), Yim Soon-Rye (South Korean director of THREE FRIENDS [1999]) and many more. There were awards for the audience’s favourite film, the Woosuk Award for the best film defining a new direction for Asian Indie film, a Daring Digital Award and a prize for the best Korean short film. Most of these were significant cash prizes.

A great initiative of the festival was the inspiration of “N” [2000], a feature-length work utilising digital techniques and limited production budgets. Park Kwang-su and Kim Yun-Tae from South Korea joined with Zhang Yuan from China, each contributing a 30 minute episode to this project. Park’s work is entitled www.whitelover.com, Kim directed DAL SEGNO and Zhang directed JIN XING FILES.

Nine cinema venues in the city screened programmes from 11am till late evening for the major part of six days. Three major all night screenings were held in addition to nightly outdoor presentations of classic Korean films beside a large lake. Most of the downtown cinemas were constructed long before a multiplex gleamed in any exhibitor’s eye so that the huge facades of cinemas from a past age lined the two or three downtown streets featuring the festival venues. To assist the celebration, the surface of the streets linking the cinemas was painted red with black rectangles running along each side to indicate sprocket holes. Guests who had attended the first Pusan International Film Festival sensed the same celebratory exhilaration in the city where posters, banners and other advertising aids were impossible to miss. Scores of young and middle-aged helpers, all identified by yellow windcheaters, were everywhere to distribute information, sell tickets, handle enquiries or assist with transport for guests.

In their introductory statements, the two programmers made the following points. As the first Korean film festival of the new millennium (let’s not get dogmatic about dates here), this was to be an event about dreaming together, an alternative film festival “to transcend the old, to enter a new creative space and to redraw the cinematic map so as to infinitely enlarge the shape of our senses and the magnetic field of our feelings”. The (East) Asian Indie Cine Forum was planned as a venue for upcoming filmmakers from East Asia. “N-vision”, which breaks the covenant of Dogma95 in search of other digital dreams, was programmed with experimental works by John Akomfrah and Christian Boustani along with the Super City project from Shanghai and ONE PIECE! from Japan, and with digital films by female directors from all corners of the globe.

The Main programme was subdivided into Cinemascape, N-Vision, (East) Asian Indie Cine-Forum, Feminist Video Activism and Korean Feast.

Section 2000 included homages to Chantal Akerman, Aleksandr Sokurov and Hou Hsiao-hsien.

Other programme areas included “Biennial Wave: Animation”, a political avant-garde retrospective, midnight specials of works by Roger Corman, the legendary Bela Tarr 7 hour opus SATANTANGO, a Japanese triple bill, a Korean retrospective, a focus on German films, short digital films, symposia and a digital film workshop.

OPENING FILM

The third feature by Hong Sang-soo, VIRGIN STRIPPED BARE BY HER BACHELORS (in contrast the Korean title refers to the heroine’s name only), opened the festival. Hong had impressed international audiences with THE DAY A PIG FELL INTO A WELL (1996) and THE POWER OF KANGWON PROVINCE (1998). His wonderful new film is his first feature in monochrome which captures perfectly the wintry environment of Seoul and the emotional states of the three main characters. As in his last film, the narrative is repeated from different points of view but this time the pattern is far more complex than the more distinct dividing line in KANGWON-DO. VIRGIN… was screened in the recent Cannes Film Festival to some acclaim and it’s hoped it will be seen far more widely very soon. Certainly along with Jang Sun-woo’s LIES, Lee Chang-dong’s PEPPERMINT CANDY (1999) and Im Kwon-taek’s CHUN-HYANG (2000), Hong’s film is one of the most significant Korean films of the moment.

CINEMASCAPE

A cross-section of recent international cinema was screened in this section. Titles such as ADRENALINE DRIVE (Yaguchi Shinobu, Japan 1999), AUDITION (Miike Takashi, Japan 1999), BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE (Jasmin Dizdar, UK, 1999), A CHANCE TO DIE (Chen Yi-wen, Taiwan, 2000), DIVA DOLOROSA (Peter Delpeut, Netherlands, 1999), ENGLIGHTENMENT GUARANTEED (Dorris Dorie, Germany, 1999), HOLY SMOKE (Jane Campion, Australia/USA, 1999), JONAS AND LILA, TILL TOMORROW and JONAS WHO WILL BE 25 IN THE YEAR 2000 (Alain Tanner, France-Switzerland, 1999 and 1976), KADOSH (Amos Gitai, France-Israel, 1999), PI (Darren Aronofsky, USA, 1998), A PORNOGRAPHIC AFFAIR (Frederic Fonteyne, Belgium-France-Luxemburg, 1999), ROMANCE (Catherine Breillat, France, 1999), SCENERY (Zhao Ji-Song, China, 1999), SHOWER (Zhang Yang, China, 1999), SOMBRE (Philippe Grandrieux, France, 1998), WILDSIDE (Donald Cammell, UK, 1995-9) show the breadth of this selection.

N-vision

Looking at the diversity of digital film-making, this selection included 6 EASY PIECES and MURI ROMANI (Jon, Jost, Italy, 2000), which are explorations by this adventurous artist as he wandered around Southern Europe with a digital camera, experiencing the textures of historic places and experimenting with multiple images. BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (Wim Wenders, Germany-Usa, 1998) is by now very well known internationally. BUENOS AIRES ZERO DEGREE (Kwan Pun-Leung, Amos Lee, Hong Kong, 1999) incorporates unused footage from Wong Kar-wai’s HAPPY TOGETHER (of the female character, etc.). THE CALL OF MIST (John Akomfrah, UK, 1998) and the same director’s MEMORY ROOM 451 (1997) and RIOT (1999) are unique works by this gifted filmmaker who combines experimental techniques with activism in racial issues. CITIES FROM THE PAST: BRUGGE and CITIES FROM THE PAST: SIENA (Christian Boustani, France, 1995 and 1992) demonstrates how this filmmaker employs high-end digital technology on a very personal scale. CREDO (Susanne Bier, Denmark, 1997) is the fourth feature by this enterprising director. JADE (Tang Da-Nian, China, 1998) is a successful digital work from the Super City Project. LOVERS (Jean-Marc Barr, France, 1999) is the first French “Dogma” film. MIDNIGHT WALKER (Guan Hu, China, 1998) is another of the Super City Project digital works this time by the maker of DIRT, a feature that screened at some festivals in 1992-3. ONE PIECE! (Yaguchi Shinobu, Suzuki Takuji, Japan, 1999) employs no zooms, pans or editing and only one shot per scene in its fourteen short pieces. THIRD WORLD COP (Chris Browne, Jamaica, 1999), a tale of guns and cops, despite its low budget was a huge hit in Jamaica. WINDHORSE (Paul Wagner, USA, 1998) uses a digital camera to record the Tibetan situation under Chinese rule.

(EAST) ASIAN INDIE CINE-FORUM

CONNECTION BY FATE (Wan Jen, Taiwan, 1998), FROZEN (Wang Xiao-Shuai but credited to Wu Ming, China-Hong Kong, 1997), FUFU, THE WORLDWEARY (Obitani Yuri, Japan, 1999), GOLDFISH (Wu Di, China, 1995), HAZY LIFE (Yamashita Nobuhiro, 1999), HYSTERIC (Zeze Takahisa, 1999), JAM (Chen Yi-wen, Taiwan, 1998), LOVE GO GO (Chen Yu-Hsun, Taiwan, 1997), THE LOVE OF THREE ORANGES (Hung Hung, Taiwan, 1998), LUNAR ECLIPSE (Wang Quan-An, China, 1999), M/OTHER (Suwa Nobuhiro, Japan, 1999), MONDAY (Sabu, Japan, 1999), POSTMAN (He Yi, China, 1995), SPRING CACTUS (WILD LOVE) (Huang Yu-Shan, Taiwan, 1999), XIAOSHAN GOING HOME (Jia Zhang-Ke, China, 1995) all demonstrate the range of expression and trends in alternative cinema in East Asia.

FEMINIST VIDEO ACTIVISM

At the 1999 Yamagata Documentary Film Festival, feminist video activists from Korea met with Video Juku and Video Studio Akame members and the Korean and Japan artists compared their common ideas and struggles. The works in this section of the festival reflect the filmmakers’ feminist concerns. DIVORCE PART 1,2 (Shimonobo Shuko, Japan, 1993-6) investigates divorce through the experiences of a divorced video artist. EX/ORDINARY (Jung Ho-Hyun, South Korea, 1999) studies how young women form their sexual identities. FROM NOW (Ito Fusa, Japan, 1996) follows the journey of Korean-Japanese women through Korea accompanied by Japanese women. NO RECONCILIATION (Yun Eun-Jeong, South Korea, 2000) looks at the aftermath of IMF in which female workers lost their jobs because of the underlying sexism inherent in structural reform. THREE MEMORY PIECES (Japan, 1997-9) studies the Chinese and Korean women forced to become Comfort Women during World War II, a fascinating companion piece to the series of Korean works on this subject. WOMEN WORKERS’ STORY-PARALLEL (Lee Hye-Ran, Seo Eun-Joo, South Korea, 2000) looks at the plight of female cafeteria workers in a motor plant.

KOREAN FEAST

South Korean feature films are on the crest of the wave at the box office at home and in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan. Many are also making a big impression at international film festivals. Jeonju Festival made a small selection of more alternative feature works. DIE BAD (Ryu Seung-Wan, 2000) is an independent 16mm feature divided into four parts. A HIGHER ANIMAL (Bong Joon-Ho, 2000) is an allegorical tale about a post-IMF phenomenon in society. INTERVIEW (Daniel H.Byun, 2000) is the first Korean film in the “Dogma” cycle, composed of three layers: a documentary in which the fictional filmmaker and his staff conduct interviews, a fiction about the same characters and finally a merging of the two strands. THE ISLE (Kim Ki-Duk, 2000) is shot exquisitely on a remote stretch of water surrounded by autumnal forests. Reminiscent of some of the 1960s film by Shinoda and Teshigahara, the film explores the metaphorical landscape, secret desires and fetishes and includes some genuinely appalling moments with fish-hooks and tackle. MEMENTO MORI (Kim Tae-Yong, Min Kyu-Dong, 1999) is the sequel to WHISPERING CORRIDORS (1998), this time with a lesbian emphasis. A significant selection of shorter Korean films was included in this section too.

HOMMAGES

Chantal Akerman’s career was followed through ALL NIGHT LONG (1982), GOLDEN EIGHTIES (1986), JEANNE DIELMAN (1975), THE MEETING OF ANNA (1978), NEWS FROM HOME (1976), SOUTH (1999).

Aleksandr Sokurov was highlighted with ELEGY FROM RUSSIA (1993), A LONELY VOICE OF MAN (1987), MOLOCH (1999), THE SECOND CIRCLE (1990), STONE (1992).

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s tribute comprised THE BOYS FROM FENGKUEI (1983), DUST IN THE WIND (1986), FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI (1998), GOODBYE SOUTH, GOODBYE (1996), GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN (1995), THE PUPPETMASTER (1993), THE SANDWICH MAN (1983).

BIENNIAL WAVE:ANIMATION

The organisers of this collection were striving to “re-situate animation within the territory of film in an attempt to liberate it from its miconception as ‘cartoon’.” The two sub-sections were called Imaginarium for children and their families and Imagedrome for animation mania. Many works were included here: ALLEGRO NON TROPPO (Bruno Bozzetto, Italy, 1975), ALICE (Maejima Kenichi, Japan, 2000), THE BUCKWHEAT FLOWERS OF OGRE MOUNTAIN (Okamoto Tadanari, Japan, 1972), GREY WOLF AND THE LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD and PUSS IN BOOTS (Garri Bardin, Russia, 1990-5), LA SALLA (Richard Condie, Canada, 1987), TALE OF TALES (Yuri Norstein, Russia, 1979), CONSPIRATORS OF PLEASURE (Jan Swankmajer, Czech-UK-Swiss, 1996), AOS (Kuri Yoji, Japan, 1964), REHEARSALS FOR EXTINCT ANATOMIES (The Brothers Quay, UK, 1988), DADDY AND I (Kim Eun-Soo, South Korea, 1999), MASK (Shin Young-Ah, South Korea, 1997).

POLITICAL AVANT-GARDE RETROSPECTIVE

Paul Willemen programmed one section of this retrospective and the other includes Russian films from the 1920s and ’30s. BED AND SOFA (Abram Room, Russia, 1927), THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF MR. WEST IN THE LAND OF THE BOLSHEVIKS (Lev Kuleshov, 1924), THE HOUSE ON TRUBNAYA (Boris Barnet, 1928), THE MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (Dziga Vertov, 1929) were screened alongside Amos Gitai’s FIELD DIARY (France-Israel, 1982), Chris Marker’s LA JETEE (France, 1962), SUBARNARECKHA (Ritwik Ghatak, India, 1962), A TALE OF THE WIND (Joris Ivens, France, 1988).

MIDNIGHT SPECIALS

One of the many international festival guests, Roger Corman, was celebrated with screenings at midnight (and subsequent daytime screenings) of BLOODY MAMA (1970), THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960), THE TRIP (1967).

Hysterasia highlighted three Japanese horror films: ANOTHER HEAVEN (George Iida, Japan, 2000), TETSUO (Tsukamoto Shinya, Japan, 1988) and SHIKOKU (Nagasaki Shunichi, Japan, 1999).

The final midnight screening was SATANTANGO, Bela Tarr’s 1991-4 magnum opus running 435 minutes, an allegory about the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe.

From the Korean Film Archive, prints celebrating the work of 3 stars of Korean cinema were screened in an outdoor setting beside a large lake on every evening. The stars were Kim Seung-Ho, Doh Kum-Bong and Heo Jang-Gang and titles included A BRAVE SOLDIER WITHOUT SERIAL NUMBER (Lee Man-Hee, 1966), A COACHMAN (Kang Dae-Jin, 1961), FOREVER WITH YOU (Yu Hyun-Mok, 1958), MOTHER AND A GUEST (Simon Sheen, 1961 and incidentally screened at the Melbourne Film Festival in 1963), A SECTIONAL CHIEF OF THE THIRD CLASS (Lee Bong-Rae, 1961).

Finally and most significantly a small section of German films made after unification were included. AIMEE AND JAGUAR (Max Farberbock, 1998), BYE BYE AMERICA (Jan Schutte, 1993), LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY (Werner Herzog, 1997), NO MORE MR. NICE GUY (Detlev Buck, 1993), SHORT SHARP SHOCK (Faith Akin, 1998), THE TURBULENT MAN (Sonke Wortmann, 1994).

One major new Korean film not featured in Jeonju is the latest historical romantic drama from Korea’s major director Im Kwon-taek, best known for MANDALA (1981) and SOPYONJE (1993). His new film CHUN-HYANG is a handsome and rewarding depiction of the legend of Chun-hyang, a woman celebrated in her birthplace Namwon, about an hour’s drive from Jeonju. Im’s new film, released in Korea last January, was invited in a new cut to the main competition in Cannes where it impressed many but gained no prizes. While the prize-winning announcements were proceeding in Jeonju, in nearby Namwon the 70th anniversary of Chun-hyang celebrations were unfolding at a very exuberant pace with a live performance of the legend in a handsome new traditional opera theatre, which in turn was only a few minutes walk from the set constructed for the production of Im’s film.

If the next Jeonju International Film Festival can proceed with the devotion and energy of its first edition, it will provide an important cinema event in the northern Spring season.

Jeonju International Film Festival website